CHAPTER XV. DOWN UPON THE SUWANEE RIVER.
THE RICH FOLIAGE OF THE RIVER. - COLUMBUS. - ROLINS' BLUFF. OLD TOWN HAMMOCK. - A HUNTER KILLED BY A PANTHER, DANGEROUS SERPENTS. - CLAY LANDING. THE MARSHES OP THE COAST, - BRADFORD'S ISLAND. - MY LAST CAMP. - THE VOYAGE ENDED.
Some friends, among whom were Colonel George W. Nason, Jr., of Massachusetts, and Major John Purviance, Commissioner of Suwanee County, offered to escort the paper canoe down "the river of song" to the Gulf of Mexico, a distance, according to local authority, of two hundred and thirty-five miles. While the members of the party were preparing for the journey, Colonel Nason accompanied me to the river, which was less than three miles from Rixford, the proprietors of which sent the canoe after us on a wagon drawn by mules. The point of embarkation was the Lower Mineral Springs, the property of Judge Bryson.
The Suwanee, which was swollen by some recent rains in Okefenokee Swamp, was a wild, dark, turbulent current, which went coursing through the woods on its tortuous route with great rapidity. The luxurious foliage of the river-banks was remarkable. Maples were in blossom, beech-trees in bloom, while the buckeye was covered with its heavy festoons of red flowers. Pines, willows, cotton-wood, two kinds of hickory, water-oak, live-oak, sweet-gum, magnolia, the red and white bay-tree, a few red cedars, and haw-bushes, with many species not known to me, made up a rich wall of verdure on either side, as I sped along with a light heart to Columbus, where my compagnons de voyage were to meet me. Wood-ducks and egrets, in small flocks, inhabited the forest. The limestone banks of the river were not visible, as the water was eighteen feet above its low summer level.
I now passed under the railroad bridge which connects Live Oak with Savannah. After a steady row of some hours, my progress was checked by a great boom, stretched across the river to catch the logs which floated down from the upper country. I was obliged to disembark and haul the canoe around this obstacle, when, after passing a few clearings, the long bridge of the J. P. M. Railroad came into view, stretching across the now wide river from one wilderness to the other. On the left bank was all that remained of the once flourishing town of Columbus, consisting now of a store, kept by Mr. Allen, and a few buildings. Before the railroad was built, Columbus possessed a population of five hundred souls, and it was reached, during favorable stages of water, by light-draught steamboats from Cedar Keys, on the Gulf of Mexico. The building of railroads in the south has diverted trade from one locality to another, and many towns, once prosperous, have gone to decay.
The steam saw-mills and village of Ellaville were located on the river-bank opposite Columbus, and this lumber establishment is the only place of importance between it and Cedar Keys. This far-famed river, to which the heart of the minstrel's darky "is turning eber," is, in fact, almost without the "one little hut among de bushes," for it is a wild and lonely stream. Even in the most prosperous times there were but few plantations upon its shores. Wild animals roam its great forests, and vile reptiles infest the dense swamps. It is a country well fitted for the hunter and lumberman, for the naturalist or canoeist; but the majority of people would, I am sure, rather hear of it poured forth in song from the sweet lips of Christina Nilsson, than to be themselves "way down upon the Suwanee Ribber."
On Monday, March 22d, Messrs. Nason, Purviance, and Henderson joined me. The party had obtained a northern-built shad-boat, which had been brought by rail from Savannah. It was sloop-rigged, and was decked forward, so that the enthusiastic tourists possessed a weatherproof covering for their provisions and blankets. With the strong current of the river, a pair of long oars, and a sail to be used when favorable winds blew, the party in the shad-boat could make easy and rapid progress towards the Gulf, while my lightly dancing craft needed scarcely a touch of the oar to send her forward.
On Tuesday, the 23d, we left Columbus, while a crowd of people assembled to see us off; many of them seeming to consider this simple and delightful way of travelling too dangerous to be attempted. The smooth but swift current rolled on its course like a sea of molten glass, as the soft sunlight trembled through the foliage and shimmered over its broad surface.
Our boats glided safely over the rapids, which for a mile and a half impede the navigation of the river during the summer months, but which were now made safe by the great depth of water caused by the freshet. The weather was charming, and our little party, fully alive to all the beautiful surroundings, woke many an echo with sounds meant to be sweet. Of course the good old song was not forgotten. Our best voice sang:
"Way down up-on de Suwanee Rib-ber,
Far, far away,
Dere's whar my heart is turn-ing eb-ber,
Dere's whar de old folks stay.
All up and down de whole creation
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation,
And for de old folks at home.
"All round de little farm I wander'd
When I was young;
Den many happy days I squan-der'd -
Many de songs I sung.
When I was playing wid my brud-der,
Hap-py was I.
O! take me to my kind old mud-der,
Dere let me live and die!